Lock Up Your Daughters Lose It At The Movies

Helen Wright explains why <b>Lock Up Your Daughters'</b> upcoming screening of Gus Van Sant's <i>My Own Private Idaho</i> is perfectly in keeping with their new monthly queer movie night at the GFT

Article by Helen Wright | 19 Aug 2011

There’s a cute joke in the opening frame of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. It shows a dictionary page on which ‘narcolepsy’, a chronic sleep disorder from which central character Mike suffers, is highlighted. Sitting in the shadows, just above that word, is ‘narco’. Seeing as Van Sant borrowed for his film the drifting, cut-up style that William Burroughs invented in Naked Lunch, you might expect a sex-crazed, drug-addled tale worthy of the late Beat writer. Instead, you get fluffy River Phoenix as hustler Mike, whose erratic sleeping habits, rather than any junk addiction, are responsible for the story jumping about surreally through time and space.

There is a wee bit of drug taking in Idaho — Mike sheepishly and ineptly snorts some coke stolen from his gang’s mentor, Bob. There’s a smattering of kinky sex — Mike plays chambermaid whilst dressed as a Dutch sailor boy for a pervy old client. But mainly the film is about a fragile young man who has a troubled relationship with reality. Mike spends his days hallucinating and fantasising about his long lost mother. He imagines her as an idyllic character in home movies and sees her in every older woman he meets. Mike also has feelings for rich straight boy Scott (played by Keanu Reeves, whose plastic qualities for once enhance his performance in this role as a poser with Shakespearean pretensions). The hopelessness of this infatuation culminates in Mike’s heartbreakingly sweet confession of love by the glow of a campfire.

All of Van Sant’s films are distinguished by a kind of softness in the face of brutal themes. You never quite believe that strapping Matt Damon, with his dimply smile, is a hardened survivor of childhood abuse in Good Will Hunting. The director’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho reinvents disturbed killer Norman Bates as goofball Vince Vaughan. And turning the subway pick-up at the start of Milk into a sensual romcom-tinged meeting between Sean Penn and James Franco is a masterstroke of dreamy charm in a film essentially about repression and murder. Despite his creative debt to misanthrope Burroughs, Van Sant gives off a distinct aura of niceness by comparison.

Idaho fits the bill then as the latest film to be shown by Glasgow queer group Lock Up Your Daughters at the GFT. Their now regular monthly slot has featured movies — All Over Me, But I’m a Cheerleader, Hedwig and the Angry Inch — which approach queer topics in a humourous and/or romantic manner. It’s a smart course to steer through the minefield that is homos and the movies. How to counteract the entrenched homophobia of mainstream films without resorting to pretentious experimental gibberish? Positive v negative representation, etc and so on. My Own Private Idaho is a beautiful, impressionistic tale of woe which burrows into the savage heart of things but does so in an entertaining and alluring way. Like the other films screened in the season so far, it’s more than anything else a great argument for cinema as an art form.

My Own Private Idaho is screening on Sunday 21 Aug, 7.30pm at the GFT.

My Own Private Idaho is screening on Sunday 21 Aug, 7.30pm at the GFT

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